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Why Netflix is a little worried about the Olympics

A woman poses for a photo by a set of Olympic rings on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2016 on the eve of the opening of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Leon Neal | AFP | Getty Images
A woman poses for a photo by a set of Olympic rings on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2016 on the eve of the opening of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

The Olympics draws in up to tens of millions of viewers a night. Those viewers have to come from somewhere, and Netflix is worried it might feel a pinch.

During a call with analysts following its Q2 earnings report last month, Netflix was asked how it was factoring the Olympics into its guidance.

"So with an assumption of a hit from the Olympics which largely affects us in the past on gross adds, or on new subscribers coming in, that's going to affect in terms of a year-over-year trend," said David Wells, Netflix's chief financial officer. "We expect that to be a meaningful — a small but still meaningful — impact on the quarter. Negative impact."

Netflix did not respond to repeated requests for clarification on its comments.

Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer, said Netflix is correct in assuming there will be less usage of its service during the Rio Games. He said other services, including streaming video companies and traditional TV networks, also experience that effect.

"Live TV in this particular incarnation, which is a mega sports event, is still the one domain of linear TV that seems to thrive," he said.

That doesn't mean that everyone is tuning into the Olympics on TV, Verna said.

NBCUniversal, which broadcasts the Olympics, has been increasing the amount of programming posted on digital platforms. Many of the daytime sports events are livestreamed through the official NBC Olympics site, available to those who have a verified cable or satellite service. In addition, other streaming video services like YouTube have brokered deals to carry Olympics coverage.

"People want their live sports content, but they don't care how they get it," he said.

Michael Goodman, director of digital media strategy at Strategy Analytics, was a little skeptical of Netflix's claims that the Olympics would have a "meaningful" impact on its subscriber numbers. He pointed out that the streaming video service didn't experience that much of a decline in subscribers due to the World Cup, and the Olympics is only two weeks long.

"They're trying to give reasons why their subscription rates are down, and they're not reaching the same rates," he said, "The answer to me is simple: Especially in the U.S., they're reaching saturation. It's a flat-out numbers game, and they're on the backside."

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.